Prosecutors reject Costa Concordia captain's plea bargain on manslaughter charge

GROSSETO, Italy Tue May 14, 2013 12:44pm EDT

1 of 6. The capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia lies surrounded by cranes outside Giglio harbour May 14, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Tony Gentile

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GROSSETO, Italy (Reuters) - Prosecutors rejected a plea bargain offer by the captain of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, which capsized off Italy's west coast last year with the loss of 32 lives, lawyers said on Tuesday.

Captain Francesco Schettino is accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship. He has admitted making mistakes but says he should not be the only one blamed for the disaster.

State prosecutors accepted plea bargains for five other officials, including four ship's officers and the crisis coordinator of the vessel's owners, Costa Cruises.

The prosecutors said they had rejected Schettino's offer to serve three years and four months in prison as he bore most responsibility for the disaster. The other officers had played a "marginal" role, they said.

The giant Costa Concordia went down just outside the Tuscan port of Giglio in January last year after it struck rocks off the coast of the picturesque holiday island during a maneuver which brought the doomed vessel close to the shore.

The accident triggered a chaotic night-time evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and crew from the 290-metre-long ship, which is still lying on its side on a rock shelf just outside the port.

A recording of a coastguard ordering Schettino to "get back aboard, damn it!" in a furious telephone call to the captain spawned a popular catchphrase that was printed on t-shirts in Italy.

"It must be reiterated that the accused Schettino almost exclusively carries the weight for the striking chain of errors committed," the Grosetto state prosecutor's office said in a statement.

Schettino's lawyer Francesco Pepe told reporters that they had always intended to fight the case at trial and had only entered the plea bargain because the five other defendants had done so, leaving the captain isolated as potentially the sole defendant on trial.

"We think now we will go to trial. We want the details of what really happened to come to light," Schettino's lawyer, Francesco Pepe told reporters.

The presiding judge is expected to rule on whether or not to approve the plea bargains for the other five by the end of the week.

"I can only tell you that anyone who has been in a position of authority would feel very, very depressed, exactly as he feels," Pepe said.

(Reporting by Silvia Ognibene and Antonio Denti; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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